Highlights from the Eskom Research Conference

The Eskom Research Conference took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, 11-12 September 2018.

This two-day conference, the first for some years was held at the nationalised power generation company Eskom’s Academy of Learning, Midrand. The theme was the changing energy landscape and its impact on the power utility, and a particular focus was on the role of innovation that has been identified by Eskom as vital to its sustainable future. Most of the attendees were Eskom employees, from researchers to power plant managers and engineers.

The keynote address from the academic Dr D Soumonni introduced the concept of disruptive innovation within markets as a route to achieving rapidly growing industries. This was expanded by other speakers in explaining how such disruption may come from within a company, disrupting an existing, perhaps underperforming, business model, or it might be from an aggressive market entrant. They highlighted the way the concept could apply to Eskom’s strategy, for example in taking up innovative ways to exploit the renewables sector and to become increasingly customer-focused. There were three panel sections, when the panel members were invited to comment on prepared questions, before the floor was open to any of the attendees.

The main technical content of the conference was in three parallel streams, one mainly focused on coal, others on transmission, including smart grids, the environment, renewables, flexibility and the impact of electric vehicles. Many of the presentations were from Eskom research staff and were impressive. The streams that we were able to attend ranged from generation flexibility, to asset management (for example turbine blade treatments to mitigate effects of fatigue), to air quality monitoring and PV technology trends.

Paul Baruya and myself had been invited to present on two topic each:

Review of high efficiency low emissions coal power system development and deployment (PB)

Review of global coal market trends (PB)

Review of flexible operation of coal-fired power plants (CH)

Review of near zero non-greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants (CH)

These were within the coal, generation flexibility, and environment sessions. We also participated in one of the panel sessions. All of our contributions were appreciated, and we felt that the effort was worthwhile.

Eskom plans to hold similar events in the future, the next in two years’ time.